Marina Ovsyannikova, a former Russian state TV journalist who fled to France after denouncing the war in Ukraine on live TV, was hospitalized on Thursday after she suddenly fell ill and suspected she was poisoned. The Paris prosecutor’s office said Ovsyannikova called emergency services and was taken to a hospital as she left her Paris apartment. Police were examining her apartment and an investigation was underway.
Ovsyannikova, who worked at Russian state television Channel One, drew international attention in March 2022 after appearing behind the anchor of an evening news broadcast with a sign that said, “Stop the war, don’t believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here.” She was charged with disparaging the Russian military and fined 30,000 rubles ($270 at the time).
A daring escape to France
She later staged a protest near the Kremlin in July 2022, was detained and placed under house arrest before escaping to France with her daughter. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which helped Ovsyannikova escape Russia and settle in France, said its team has been “at her side” since she sought medical attention. The group did not have further information about what happened.
Ovsyannikova said she decided to flee Russia after receiving threats and harassment from pro-Kremlin activists and officials. She also said she was disillusioned with the state-controlled media and its coverage of the war in Ukraine, which she called a “crime against humanity.”
A harsh sentence in absentia
Earlier this month, a Moscow court sentenced her to 8 1/2 years in prison in absentia for spreading false information about the Russian army. It was the latest example of a Russian crackdown on dissent that has intensified since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly 20 months ago. The scale of the crackdown has been unprecedented in post-Soviet Russia.
Ovsyannikova’s case has drawn comparisons to that of Alexei Navalny, the most prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, who survived a nerve agent poisoning last year and is now serving a prison sentence on charges he says are politically motivated. Navalny’s allies and supporters have also faced arrests, raids, fines and bans from running for office.
A wave of solidarity and concern
Ovsyannikova’s suspected poisoning has sparked a wave of solidarity and concern from journalists, human rights activists and politicians around the world. RSF said it was “extremely worried” about her condition and called for a thorough investigation. The group also urged the French authorities to provide her with protection and security.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was “deeply concerned” by the reports of Ovsyannikova’s poisoning and expressed his “full solidarity” with her. He also condemned the “systematic repression” of independent voices in Russia and called for the release of all political prisoners.
The U.S. State Department also expressed its support for Ovsyannikova and said it was “closely monitoring” the situation. Spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. stands with “all those who seek to exercise their fundamental freedoms in Russia and elsewhere.”